Mr. Isaac's Social Studies Site

Argonne Forest, at Midnight

Otto Dix (German, 1915)


Argonne Forest, at midnight,

A [soldier] stands on guard.

A star shines high up in the sky,

Bringing greetings from a distant homeland.


And with a spade in his hand,

He waits forward in the sap-trench.

He thinks with longing of his love,

Wondering if he will ever see her again.


The artillery roars like thunder,

While we wait in front of the infantry,

With shells crashing all around.

The Frenchies want to take our position.


Should the enemy threaten us even more,

We Germans [will] fear him no more.

And should he be so strong,

He will not take our position.

The storm breaks! The mortar crashes!

The [soldier] begins his advance.


Forward to the enemy trenches,

There he pulls the pin on a grenade.


The infantry stand in wait,

Until the hand grenade explodes.

Then forward with the assault against the enemy,

And with a shout, break into their position.


Argonne Forest, Argonne Forest,

Soon thou will be a quiet cemetery.

In thy cool earth rests

Much gallant soldiers’ blood.


The Spirit

“Woodbine Willie” (British, date unknown)


When there ain't no gal to kiss you,
And the postman seems to miss you,
[Cigarettes] have skipped an issue,
Carry on.

When ye've got an empty belly,
And the [beef is] rotten smelly,
And you're shivering like a jelly,
Carry on.

When the Boche has done your chum in,
And the sergeant's done the rum in,
And there ain't no rations comin',
Carry on.

 When the world is red and reeking,
And the shrapnel shells are shrieking,
And your blood is slowly leaking,
Carry on.

 When the broken battered trenches,
Are like the bloody butchers' benches,
And the air is thick with stenches,
Carry on.

Carry on,
Though your pals are pale and wan,
And the hope of life is gone,
Carry on.

For to do more than you can,
Is to be a British man,
Not a rotten 'also ran,'
Carry on.


Trench Duty
Siegfried Sassoon (British, published in Counter Attack, 27 June 1918)

Shaken from sleep, and numbed and scarce awake,
Out in the trench with three hours' watch to take,
I blunder through the splashing mirk; and then
Hear the gruff muttering voices of the men
Crouching in cabins candle-chinked with light.
Hark! There's the big bombardment on our right
Rumbling and bumping; and the dark's a glare
Of flickering horror in the sectors where
We raid the Bosche; men waiting, stiff and chilled,
Or crawling on their bellies through the wire.
"What? Stretcher-bearers wanted? Some one killed?"
Five minutes ago I heard a sniper fire:
Why did he do it? ... Starlight overhead -
Blank stars. I'm wide-awake; and some chap's dead.


Siegfried Sassoon (British, March 1919)

Have you forgotten yet? ...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same - and War's a bloody game ...
Have you forgotten yet? ...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz -
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench -
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, "Is it all going to happen again?"

Do you remember the hour of din before the attack -
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads - those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet? ...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.


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